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Red Divider Line

Government Bill on Impaired Driving
Source - Department of Justice - Canada

Impaired Driving In Canada

The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) reports that in 1996, over 70,000 people in Canada were charged by police with impaired driving. In 1996, 133 people were charged with impaired driving causing death a number that has remained relatively constant since the 1990s. In 1987, the first year in which all Canadian jurisdictions reported statistics, 43 per cent of fatally injured drivers had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding the Criminal Code limit of 80 mg per 100 mL of blood. In 1995, 35 per cent of fatally injured drivers had a BAC exceeding the legal limit.

While the rate of impaired driving and the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities have declined since the 1980s, the current incidence of impaired driving remains unacceptable to Canadians. Impaired drivers put themselves, their passengers and other road users at risk. A 1999 Insurance Corporation of British Columbia report indicates that in each of 1995, 1996 and 1997, impaired drivers and their passengers comprised more than 80 per cent of all impaired driving deaths in British Columbia.

Impaired driving offences have the highest conviction rate of any Criminal Code offence. According to the CCJS, of the 50,000 people in nine jurisdictions found guilty of impaired driving in 1995-96, 66 per cent were sentenced to pay a fine (the median fine was $500), 22 per cent received imprisonment (the median prison term was 30 days), nine per cent received probation and three per cent received other sentences.

Despite important progress, impaired driving continues to be a serious problem in Canada with wide-ranging and tragic consequences for victims, their families and communities as a whole.

Standing Committee Review of Impaired Driving

At the request of the House of Commons, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights began a review of the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code on December 3, 1998. The purpose of the Committees review was to propose amendments to the Code that would enhance deterrence and ensure that penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence.

The Committee held more than a dozen public hearings and heard from over 30 witnesses including police associations, victims, safety-oriented organizations such as MADD, health and addiction experts, motor vehicle associations, forensic scientists, researchers and representatives from the criminal justice system. The Committee also received over 50 written submissions from a wide range of individuals and organizations.

Testimony before the Committee highlighted the complex and interdependent mix of criminal and administrative sanctions for impaired driving currently in place at the federal and provincial-territorial levels, and underscored the need for federal-provincial-territorial collaboration on this issue. Provincial and territorial governments provided the Committee with information about extensive administrative initiatives and legislation to fight impaired driving in their respective jurisdictions.

On May 25, 1999, the Committee tabled its report, Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving.

Committees Report

Of the 17 recommendations in the Committees report, nine were included in the draft bill that accompanied the report. While some technical changes have been made to the Committees draft legislation, the Governments bill, tabled today, reflects its spirit and intent.

The proposals for reform in the bill will:

  • increase the mandatory minimum fine to $600 from $300 for a first impaired driving conviction;
  • increase the mandatory minimum prohibition from driving anywhere in Canada from three months to one year on a first offence, from six months to two years on a second offence and from one year to three years on a subsequent offence. The maximum driving prohibition would be increased from three to five years for a second offence and from three years to a lifetime ban for a subsequent offence. Given the high rate of conviction for impaired driving offences, these changes would result in a substantial increase in the amount of time impaired drivers are prohibited from driving anywhere in Canada;
  • increase the maximum penalty for driving while disqualified to five years from two years;
  • raise the maximum sentence for impaired driving causing death to life imprisonment from the current maximum of 14 years;
  • create a maximum penalty of 10 years for leaving the scene of an accident involving injury and of life imprisonment for leaving the scene of an accident involving death;
  • authorize a peace officer to demand a breath sample and, in certain circumstances, a blood sample, where the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person committed a drinking and driving offence within the previous three hours. This is an increase from the current two hours;
  • allow sentencing judges to require the use of an ignition interlock as a condition of probation, where such a program is available;
  • allow sentencing judges to order those convicted of impaired driving to undergo assessment and treatment; and
  • specify that a BAC exceeding twice the criminal offence level must be considered an aggravating factor by the judge at the time of sentencing.

Through these amendments, the Government of Canada intends to ensure that the criminal law fulfills its role, in combination with other measures aimed at eradicating impaired driving, by sending a strong message that impaired driving will not be tolerated.

Other recommendations:

In addition to the proposed changes to the Criminal Code in the Committees draft bill, the Committee made eight other recommendations concerning: improved collaboration and consultation between the federal and provincial-territorial governments on prosecution and enforcement issues; a review of the Criminal Code to consider the advisability of creating new sanctions or provisions to address outstanding issues such as flight from police and drug-impaired driving; public information and education; and more comprehensive research and policy development.

The Committee also recommended that the House of Commons review the operation of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code in five years.

The Government will respond to all the Committees recommendations by the 150-day deadline required by Parliament. As proposed by the Committee, the provinces and territories, who share jurisdiction in the area of impaired driving, will be consulted.

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Department of Justice
June 1999

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